Place Category: Parks and Playgrounds
The 134th Street Bathhouse opened to the public on June 1, 1925 under the auspices of Manhattan Borough President Julius Miller. It was one of many bathhouses built early in the century to promote public health, hygiene, and recreation. According to a 1927 newspaper article, the Harlem facility was built at a cost of almost $500,000 and was “the last word in shower bath construction.” The stunning natatorium (meaning indoor swimming pool, from the Latin natare, to swim) was decorated with tiles, mosaics, and ceramic panels depicting sea creatures.
In addition to the pool, there were 164 showers and 6 bathtubs on the first floor, which was operated by the Borough President’s staff. The gymnasium, running track, locker room, and showers on the second floor were operated by the Department of Parks. In 1926 the gymnasium was used by 43,000 visitors, including public school children and members of boys and girls clubs, such as the Chapel Boys, the New York Flashes, and the Sunshine Girls Club. In 1934 the structure was turned over to the Department of Parks to serve as a recreation center. For generations of Harlem residents, the 134th Street Recreation Center was a magnet for amateur athletes.
In 1984 the facility was named in memory of John Rozier Hansborough Jr. (1907-1981), a former Parks recreational employee and Harlem community leader. Born in the Bronx, Rozier moved with his family to Harlem when he was a teenager. He was a superb all-around athlete and played varsity football at Stuyvesant High School, where he was also a member of the Law Society. After graduating from Stuyvesant in 1925, Hansborough attended college at New York University and Howard University.
In 1929 he became a recreation instructor at Harlem Playground and rose to become Assistant Director of the Harlem Children’s Center (formerly the Harlem Playground, now the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Memorial Center). Hansborough joined Parks as a Playground Director in 1938 and assembled many star-studded teams in track and field, football, basketball, softball, and baseball. He was promoted to Assistant Supervisor of Recreation in Manhattan in 1969 and implemented a cultural arts program at the Mount Morris (now Pelham Fritz) Recreation Center.
Hansborough broke the color barrier as the first of two African-Americans in the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials. As a founder of the Sports United Basketball Association, he trained several outstanding basketball officials who worked in the National Basketball Association. Hansborough served as a surrogate father to many children in Harlem and a mentor to some who became professional athletes. He married Audrey Solomon, a former Parks employee and Department of Social Services District Director, in 1971. Though Hansborough retired from Parks in 1975, he returned to work as a Community Service Aide in Manhattan from 1976 to 1979. He died in 1981 at the age of seventy-three.
In 1988 Audrey S. Hansborough founded the John Rozier Hansborough Jr. Recreation Center Conservancy in memory of her husband. Under her leadership, the Conservancy established a partnership with City of New York/Parks & Recreation “to promote and monitor the restoration, maintenance and management” of Harlem’s parks, playgrounds, and recreation centers. In 1994 the Manhattan Borough President funded a $1,259,000 capital project to improve access to the recreation center by installing an elevator, ramps, and outside lighting and by renovating the bathrooms for the handicapped. New fencing, lighting, and flooring were installed on the building’s roof to provide a dramatic setting for special events.
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